How Big Companies Can Hamper the Surveillance Infrastructure 153

Trailrunner7 writes "Buried underneath the ever-growing pile of information about the mass surveillance methods of the NSA is a small but significant undercurrent of change that's being driven by the anger and resentment of the large tech companies that the agency has used as tools in its collection programs. The changes have been happening since almost the minute the first documents began leaking out of Fort Meade in June. When the NSA's PRISM program was revealed this summer, it implicated some of the larger companies in the industry as apparently willing partners in a system that gave the agency 'direct access' to their servers. Officials at Google, Yahoo and others quickly denied that this was the case, saying they knew of no such program and didn't provide access to their servers to anyone and only complied with court orders. More recent revelations have shown that the NSA has been tapping the links between the data centers run by Google and Yahoo, links that were unencrypted. That revelation led a pair of Google security engineers to post some rather emphatic thoughts on the NSA's infiltration of their networks. It also spurred Google to accelerate projects to encrypt the data flowing between its data centers. These are some of the clearer signs yet that these companies have reached a point where they're no longer willing to be participants, witting or otherwise, in the NSA's surveillance programs."

Can the US Be Weaned Off Ethanol? 330

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Matthew Wald reports in the NYT the the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed reducing the amount of ethanol that is required to be mixed with the gasoline supply, the first time it has taken steps to slow down the drive to replace fossil fuels with renewable forms of energy. The move drew bitter complaints from advocates of ethanol, including some environmentalists, who see the corn-based fuel blend as a weapon to fight climate change and was also unwelcome news to farmers, coming at a time when a record corn crop is expected, and the price of a bushel has fallen almost to the cost of production. "Boy, my goodness, are the oil companies going to benefit from this," says Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association. "We're all just sort of scratching our heads here wondering why this administration is telling us to produce less of a clean-burning American fuel." But the EPA says that a big part of the problem was that automobile fuel systems and service stations were not set up to absorb more than about 10 percent ethanol. Most cars on the road are limited to the current mixture, called E10, and there has been little demand by consumers for more. Reasons for the turnaround are many: The boom in domestic oil drilling has dimmed the urgency to find other alternatives to Mideast petroleum. Demand for gasoline has slumped. And criticism of the environmental impacts of corn ethanol has dimmed its luster nationally. The chill on ethanol will certainly affect the industry's powerhouse, corn ethanol. But the risk is far greater for smaller sectors of the industry still struggling to get out of the gate — those aimed at producing next-generation biofuels like "cellulosic" ethanol, made from ingredients like switchgrass and corn stalks. "I don't know if the EPA is aiming for uncertainty, but they may inadvertently create it," says Jan Koninckx, the global business director of biorefineries for DuPont. "The impact could be that another country will lead this rather than the U.S.""
Wireless Networking

Google Patenting Less Noble Use of Project Loon Tech 87

theodp writes "In June, Google unveiled Project Loon to acclaim from the press for its "moonshot" project that aims to use high-altitude balloons to cheaply provide internet connectivity to rural, remote, and underserved areas of the developing world. So it's interesting to see that a just-published Google patent application for Balloon Clumping to Provide Bandwidth Requested in Advance, which pre-dated the Loon launch by a year, paints a not entirely altruistic picture of balloon-powered Internet access technology. Google describes the invention — which had been kept secret with a non-publication request — as just the ticket for those well-to-do enough to pay a tiered-pricing premium to get faster internet access while attending concerts, conferences, air shows, music festivals, and sporting events where a facility's overtaxed Wi-Fi simply won't do. Hope this revelation doesn't make Bill Gates think any less of the project!"

Anki Is Not a Toy Company; Has iRobot, Others In Its Sights 19

waderoush writes "Anki gained instant fame as the robot-car company that launched at Apple's WWDC in June. Its iPhone-controlled racing game hit Apple stores in October, and the company is hoping it will be a holiday hit. But while Anki Drive offers offers a novel physical/virtual entertainment experience for kids and their gadget-loving parents, being a toy company 'is not our vision,' says co-founder and CEO Boris Sofman in this combined company profile and product review from Xconomy. Anki Drive is planned as the first in a series of new consumer-robotics products that are intensively AI-driven, as compared to the mechanically sophisticated but relatively instinctual or behavioral robots exemplified by iRobot's Roomba (which is probably the most successful consumer robot to date). The common characteristics of Anki's coming products, in Sofman's mind: 'Relatively simple and elegant hardware; incredibly complicated software; and Web and wireless connectivity to be able to continually expand the experience over time.'"

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